The Danganronpa series has always been known for it's high school murder mystery story, as well as its many similarities to Capcom's Ace Attorney franchise. Both of them are visual novels that have players looking around for evidence and pieces of testimony to solve each chapter's murder. Though, for Danganronpa in particular, another important facet of the series' personality is its crazy dread-filled world and storyline. As far as Ultra Despair Girls is concerned, the latter part of that statement is the only thing that remains to any greater extent in this 3rd-person shooter spin-off.
Spoiler Warning: Although we are limited to what scope that we can talk about the game's story, it's still highly recommended that you don't read this review if you haven't finished the first Danganronpa, due to spoilers contained in the setup for this game's plot which begin in the following paragraph.
The story starts off a few months after the conclusion of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, starring the sister of the first game's protagonist, Komaru Naegi. Captured around the start of the eponymous "The Tragedy," she has been held captive for over a year of her life, and had begun to accept her imprisonment when the apartment complex that she was held captive in is attacked by a wave of Monokuma robots during an invasion of Towa city by some unknown force.
Following a fast-paced prologue in which she is given a weapon for protecting herself from these robots by one of the surviving students from the first game, Byakuya Togami, she is captured by the propagators of the invasion: a group of psychotic children calling themselves the Warriors of Hope. After being branded by a special metallic wristband, she is thrust back into a destroyed city and left to participate in the group's demented "Demon Hunting" game.
Instead of taking its inspiration from Ace Attorney, Ultra Despair Girls instead draws many of its gameplay and story elements from another Capcom franchise: Resident Evil. Namely, Resident Evil 4 and 5. Stranded in the destroyed Towa City, once a bastion of peace in a world dominated by war, Komaru must survive an onslaught of deadly Monokuma robots and other challenges with only one companion at her side, wielding only a weakened form of the Hacking Gun that she received at the beginning of the game. Although eventually her Hacking Gun can fire up to 8 different varieties of bullets; only 2 of those are available at the start, with more returning to her arsenal throughout the progression of the story.
Each different type of bullet has its uses in both puzzle and overall combat, but of the 8 bullets that can be obtained, only 2 of them don't require any ammo. Therefore, on the harder difficulties, these bullets can become a precious resource, meaning that much like in the earlier Resident Evils, you're going to have to make sure that you have enough ammo to make it through the game.
Although Monokuma capsule dispensers are common, what they drop cannot be guaranteed, and you might be left with a resource that you can't even pick up, due to already having as much of it as you can carry. Conserving ammo only becomes more important when you factor in that certain bullets are necessary to tackle certain enemies in certain situations—you can't just go shooting at things without thinking.
Although Komaru's Hacking Gun is the main way of dealing with enemies, and the weapon that you'll be using for the vast majority of the game—as it has infinite use in the game's many Monoku-Man puzzle rooms—Komura is not, in fact, alone. Much like the name of the game emphasizes, there is another girl that accompanies Komaru in her attempt to escape the city. Toko Fukawa is a survivor of the first game's events with a deadly secret: a second personality of a serial killer.
Whenever you have battery power—denoted by a gauge underneath Komaru's health bar—you can change the attacking character into "Genocide Jack," the other half of Toko's personality, with the intent and ferocity to literally cut apart her enemies. Switching between the two characters can be an easy way to bypass some of the harder sections of the game that don't outright require the use of one of Komura's bullets, but much like those, use of Genocide Jack is limited by how much battery power you possess. Beyond that, there are various portions of the game where you simply cannot proceed as Genocide Jack.
I mentioned the Monoku-Man rooms in passing before, but these parts of the game are the best examples of the ever-present "puzzle" half of the game. Using both her trusty Hacking Gun and powers of deduction, occasionally Komaru will have to find a way to proceed through these rooms. The puzzles can range in difficulty from using her Dance bullet to cause a Sentry Monokuma to attract the rest of the sloth before motioning a car to destroy the group, to puzzles requiring frequent use of her Detect beam and the players own deduction, as well many other configurations.
Each of these rooms starts off with you activating a surveillance monitor/arcade cabinet. Once activated, you get an optional objective besides just destroying all the Monokumas in the room and a list of the bullets that you can use to achieve this goal. Although these puzzles seem to take up a bit too much of the game (and the Monokuma Children "challenges" seem to be the better puzzles) they still help break up the constant story and action for some more methodical gameplay.
Since this is a Danganronpa game, even if vastly different in presentation and core gameplay, story does take up a large portion of the title. Although there is plenty of it told throughout dialogue, this title features many more cutscenes than the two previous games in the series. Among those are the series standard exaggerated "anime" presentations, in-engine cutscenes, and some weird 3D cutscenes that look to use the same models as the game itself but for a pre-rendered event with better visual effects. Although the story doesn't end up as engrossing or crazy as the second game, it still manages to be wholly enjoyable—and explains many of the plotholes surrounding the end of the first game, as well as setting up potential context for the series' third main entry.
As far as graphics are concerned, the game looks graphically impressive, with large areas and very little loading. Some of the areas that the player visits in the game are truly impressive in scale for a portable console, and although there might be too much of a reliance on brown, red, and grey, the game does have some colorful and surreal locations. It's just a shame that some locations are recycled several times throughout the game; the sewer's in particular are over-used just to the point of annoyance, and the destroyed city tends to overstay its welcome as well. Textures and 3D models are particularly good, and in many locations I was left astounded that the title managed to both look and run as well as it did. There were some slight framerate drops here and there, but they were minor and didn't detract from the experience.
The soundtrack, while featuring some stand-out tracks, didn't catch my ear as much as the previous games did. Most of the time the music felt more like white noise than anything else—even though there was obviously a music track playing. The English dub, while slightly grating for the first hour or so, manages to improve dramatically as the game starts to get rolling. We were unable to test out the Japanese voices—those were released as part of a separate free download on launch for those interested.
Overall, Ultra Despair Girls manages to be both a worthy distraction between the two mainline Danganronpa titles, while also giving a new coat of paint to the series' formula. If you've been hankering for a 3rd-person shooter for your Vita, it might be better to skip Revelations 2 and give Ultra Despair Girls a try instead.
A review copy of the title was provided for the publisher for this review.
Overall, Ultra Despair Girls manages to be both a worthy distraction between the two mainline Danganronpa titles, while also giving a new coat of paint to the series' formula.(Review Policy)